Migration, Informal Labour and (Trans) Local Productions of Urban Space - The Case of Dhaka's Street Food Vendors

Etzold, B.

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Etzold, B. (2016). Migration, informal labour and (trans) local productions of urban space – The case of Dhaka’s street food vendors. Population, Space and Place, 22(2), 170–184.

Bangladesh , Informal labour , Migration , Social capital , Street vendors , Subaltern production of space , Translocality

In Bangladesh, Dhaka is migrants' most important destination and has itself been fundamentally transformed through migration. But there is ‘no place’ for many migrants in Dhaka. Poorer migrants live in slums and many encroach on public space to sustain their lives – the new urbanites are taking their ‘right to the city’. In doing so, they not only draw on local resources. Their production of the urban space often relates directly to their migration trajectory, their translocal networks, and their simultaneous situatedness at multiple places. Migrants connect ‘the rural’ and ‘the urban’ and constitute translocal spaces, which contribute to re‐making Dhaka from below. This paper integrates current debates on translocality, informal labour, and subaltern urbanism to address two key questions on transient urban spaces: How do migration trajectories and translocality structure the urban poor's lives? How do migrants make use of local networks and translocal social relations to find work and appropriate ‘their place’ in the city? Empirical research on street food vendors in Dhaka, almost all of whom are internal migrants, builds the basis for my argument. I show that ‘translocal social capital’ and home‐bound identities can be important resources to gain access to urban labour markets and to appropriate one's place in the city. The paper argues that the poor use translocality for their livelihoods and thereby continuously re‐shape the face of the megacity of Dhaka.

Main finding
Migrant street vendors play a crucial role in (re)producing urban spaces in Dhaka city. Street vendors socially and physically (re)produce public spaces and leave a visible imprint on the spaces of the city. On a structural level, spaces are transformed by migrant vendors through the production, consumption, and exchanging of goods that occur in the streets, which transforms spaces from places to walk to places for food consumption. On an individual level, vendors use specific spaces in the city to pursue their businesses and alter the city's urban spatial fabric by occupying whole streets or building shacks in "edge spaces." The vendors introduce crucial social and economic functions in the city. This (re)production of urban spaces, however, is met with hostility and criminalization by city authorities and urban planners because it is perceived as a threat to the image of a modern and functional city. The trans-local social networks and homebound identities of vendors are crucial in shaping their lives in the city, opening up specific livelihood opportunities, and providing access to specific spaces, thus contributing to the construction of the urban fabric of the city.

Description of method used in the article
This article employs different types of interviews with street vendors and regulators of vending spaces between September 2007 and March 2010 in Dhaka City. Survey interviews were conducted with 120 food hawkers in six characteristic study sites within the city, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 70 street vendors and 15 police officers and security guards. Additionally, Venn diagrams and repetitive in-depth interviews were employed with 22 street vendors to map their social networks and assess local power relations.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Interviews Survey
Physical types
Parks/Gardens Streets
Geographic locations